Challenges for Adult Education as Learning Trends Change

by Dr. Ken Elliott, Dean Belhaven Jackson/Madison

Adult education is on the forefront of changes in the culture. Mary Kay Park (Executive Managing Director for the Far East Broadcasting Company—Korea in Los Angeles), the main speaker for the annual conference for the Christian Adult Higher Education Association, summarized the greatest challenges facing adult education.  Her background in intercultural studies brought a clearer understanding of these challenges we face in adult education and the intercultural context of our enterprise.

In her first session, she asked what drives changes in learning trends.  Socioeconomic factors, she said, are top of the list.  We can expect an increased cost of higher education.  With this said we need to think about how adult education fits with the current job market.  Students want to see an immediate value to their education.  In addition, many students are divorced parents looking for ways to improve their economic level.

The second factor to consider is “the disillusionment of value.”  The rules for working with current bureaucracies and for education keep changing and creates disillusionment on the part of adult learners.  The new crop of prospective students are not driven by “passion” as in previous generations, but rather they are purpose driven.  Long drawn out education is often not primary for them.  The tendency is pleasure first and education later, or travel first and learn later.  This is the Instagram generation.

Also, challenges will persist, she says.    Prospective students want to know how education helps them now.  Many adults are working full time and trying to raise a child. This creates challenges for higher education programs in marketing, recruitment, and enrollment.  The new generation wants it now – the “no child left behind” generation, the group that was taught to pass the test, lacks critical thinking skills, and wants to rather know what is needed specifically for the test.

The question that most students are asking internally is: What is more important to me (and my family)?  They are conflicted between immediate needs as opposed to future needs.  It will be up to educators, to help prospective students to see the value and purpose of their education.  This will also mean that we will have to help these prospective students to understand the need to change their habits and see the great value in education.

One comment

  1. Andre Samuel

    Great article, this is a very fair assessment of the types of students that have been in my current classes. Instant gratification is the norm and not only do they lack patience, but many students fail to realize the fact of “what you put in, is equal to what you get out”. Thank you for sharing.

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